Filmmakers Tahria Sheather and National Geographic Explorer Andy Maser are most at home in the wild, documenting the intersection of culture and nature. But first and foremost, they are storytellers, able to read between the lines of history in order to share a narrative of their own making. And Quebec City—with a past centuries deep but still very much alive—presents an idyllic landscape for them to explore.
"As filmmakers, we're used to traveling long distances to access a destination," Sheather says. "But what surprised us about the Quebec City area was how accessible everything was. You have all the perks of a cosmopolitan city—restaurants, art, culture—but can access any number of adventures."
Here are the duo’s tips for scratching the surface of Canada’s sweetest province before digging in deep to discover its wild side.
Stroll through history
Equal parts cosmopolitan and wild, Quebec City embodies true romanticism, marrying epicurean splendor with respect to terroir, European and French culture, and magnificent architecture that both honors and builds on history. There’s much to explore, starting with Quebec City, where the Old Québec historic district remains a UNESCO World Heritage site . As the only walled city north of Mexico, the provincial capital radiates with Old World wonder, from cobblestone streets to the cannons lining the Saint Lawrence River on the city’s western edge. Here, 400 years of history breathe softly from every walk, where hole-in-the-wall cafes and boutiques meet impressive and expansive architecture. Take to Old Town and Upper Town by foot to revel in the slow pace of the city, marveling at urban art peeking from narrow streets and below highway overpasses, sampling the various crafts of local purveyors among the many stalls of the Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec year-round indoor public market, and stopping for breakfast (read: Benedicts in as many ways as you can dream) or espresso at any number of bistros. For a rise-and-shine treat, Sheather and Maser suggest taking to two wheels to see a different side of Old Town. "Bike through the sinuous cobblestone streets at sunrise," says Sheather, "with not a soul around."
Explore the Neighborhoods
Quebec City has more than quaint streets to offer. To explore just beyond the city center, rent bikes and peddle southwest toward Montcalm to sample the city’s arts district, passing locals sprawled out in the urban parks of Plains of Abraham and Des Braves. Backtrack just a bit up Rue Saint-Jean to hit the bohemian streets of Faubourg Saint-Jean, then cross the Rivière Saint-Charles to glimpse the 19th-century homes in Old Limoilou before landing at Baie de Beauport for an afternoon on the water. More than a half mile of sandy shores line the Saint Lawrence River, which carries winds eager to fill your sails on a whippy kite-surfing lesson or boat excursion. Once you’re sufficiently sun-kissed, return to the city center to wash up for an evening of restaurant hopping, ordering an appetizer here, a bite there, as you taste your way through the city.
Hike, bike, and climb beyond the city
Once your urban appetite is satiated, it’s only a short journey from Quebec City to Vallée Bras-du-Nord, a rustic wonderland about an hour west. Here, the air changes, fed by towering cedars and cascading falls to be explored via more than 100 miles of marked hiking and mountain biking trails that spin down canyons. Mount your bike to explore the glacial valleys of Shannahan or the dappled forests of Saint-Raymond. For an excursion outside of the ordinary, tackle the via ferrata, a self-guided course for all levels that blends hiking with climbing in an outdoor playground. Scale a high cliff face above the valley, using natural sidewalks, balconies, steps, and your carabiners to reach a suspension bridge, beyond which lies a series of airborne adventures.
Paddle in Jacques-Cartier National Park
About 40 minutes northwest of Quebec City, the mountainous plateau of Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier is sliced deep by the river it’s named for. While hiking on high is an option—there are more than 60 miles of trails and resplendent views at lookouts such as Les Loups—consider exploring the park from its lowest point. Rent stand-up paddleboards and travel downstream toward your riverside yurt. Pause your paddling to look up, breathing in the peace as it engulfs you.
Where to Stay
Experience true luxury at the famous Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, one of the most photographed hotels in the world. Built in 1892 on a dramatic cape overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, the hotel was designated a National Historic Site in 1981. Live like a local at Les Lofts St-Joseph in the industrial-turned-hip neighborhood of Saint-Roch. The renovated space offers loft-style apartments with minimalist-chic modern decor that have all the amenities of home—with the added benefit of being within walking distance of Old Quebec.
What to Eat
Take an early meal at Le Buffet de l'Antiquaire, a 40-year staple in the Old Port neighborhood that serves exceptional French diner fare at reasonable prices. Opt for one of many Benedicts in the morning or a meat pie if you’re dining later. At Buvette Scott in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighborhood, the chalkboard menu rotates regularly, featuring fresh, creative new Canadian fare. The stars of the small plates menu at Kraken Cru, found in the Saint-Sauveur district, are the oysters, many from Canada.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
The Quebec City Summer Festival (Festival d’Eté de Québec) is Canada’s largest outdoor music festival, when more than a million people flock to the old city to listen to all types of music.
Know Before You Go
Quebec City is easy to get to, with multiple nonstop flights from across North America to Jean Lesage International Airport, just 10 miles from the city center. Bus and train services are both readily available in the city.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz is a California based travel writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.